Security Council holds emergency meeting as Ethiopia extends raid

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The Independent Online

Ethiopia's forces advanced deep into south-western Eritrea yesterday, targeting the strategic town of Barentu on the supply route between the western front and the capital Asmara.

Western journalists saw evidence of the attack when they visited a deserted town strewn with corpses and a camp holding almost 500 prisoners of war.

The journalists flew over lines of empty Eritrean trenches, which had been overrun within 24 hours of the surprise offensive launched by Ethiopia early last Friday morning. The fighting restarted two days after peace talks collapsed.

Britain and the US have led international condemnation of the war, which is bringing the spectre of starvation to 9 million people on the border, and have called for an arms embargo on both sides. A divided UN Security Council went into urgent session in New York last night to consider a blanket arms embargo. A vote on the plan was expected overnight or this morning, but strong opposition is being raised by Russia.

Yesterday the Ethiopian military showed a group of journalists 470 Eritrean PoWs held in a dusty makeshift camp. "They came at us with heavy artillery - tanks and mortars and airplanes," one PoW, 25-year-old teacher Serai Tesfay, told the BBC. "They hit our lines and destroyed us after that."

The press group also saw the deserted town inside the Eritrean border that had been turned into an Ethiopian garrison. The area was littered with the bodies of Eritrean soldiers. An estimated 110,000 of Ethiopia's 300,000 troops stationed along the 620-mile disputed border have crossed into Eritrean territory.

But the information from the front line by no means gives a full picture of the position. The media has been denied access to the central and eastern lines, where both sides are thought to be taking heavy casualties in intense fighting.

Eritrea was putting a brave face on the attacks. A spokesman for President Issaias Afewerki said they were inflicting heavy casualties on the Ethiopians as their troops strategically retreated from some areas.

Both sides have built up massive military stockpiles. Further supplies could be channelled through porous borders in both countries with unstable neighbours such as Sudan and Somalia.